§ 3.32 p.m.
§ The Chancellor of the Exchequer (Mr. Harold Macmillan)
Very many years have passed since I first heard a Chancellor of the Exchequer open his Budget. For a young and newly elected Member, it was a great occasion. I remember it very well. Of course, in those days there were not so many rival attractions. The Chancellor of the Exchequer of the day was the then Member for Epping. Now he is my right hon. Friend the Member for Woodford (Sir W. Churchill). Quite a lot has happened since then—to him, and to us.
It was said at the time that my great predecessor was quite surprised to find himself at the Treasury in the winter of 1924—but not half so surprised as I was, thirty-one years later. Naturally, I could not tell the Committee today the details of that Budget all those years ago; but I do remember the scene very vividly. I remember, too, how the dullest and most prosaic of topics leaped into life under his magic touch. Rows of figures were marshalled into battalions and regiments by the master's hand. It was more than the opening of a Budget. It was the launching of a campaign. Since those days I have heard many Budget speeches, but no Chancellor since then—certainly, in my mind—has left quite the same romantic memory.
Indeed, his successors have sometimes seemed more like schoolmasters than commanders. To tell the truth, I have often thought of Budget day as rather like a school speech day—a bit of a bore, but there it is. The parents and the old boys like it. These occasions are very similar, for an unfortunate audience has to sit and listen to a long speech before it is told of the fortunate prize winners. The analogy is not, of course, perfect, because on Budget day there are quite likely to be impositions as well as prizes for distribution. Sometimes there are nothing but impositions. However, the additional 853 uncertainty, I suppose, adds to the suppressed excitement, and the speech, therefore is received with all the greater impatience, which I can well understand.
On this occasion, when I am introducing my first Budget, I shall try not to prolong the agony. I certainly do not think that it is necessary to start with the usual long review of the events of the last financial year. I will content myself with a brief assessment of the present state of the economy, with a quick backward glance to show the recent movements of what, I think, are called "the key economic indicators".